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THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF MASONS 

AND ITS 

CONNECTION WITH FREEMASONRY. 

BY 

REV. P. H. DITCHFIELD, M.A., F.S.A., F.R.S.L., F.R.Hist.S. ; 
Prov. G. Chap. (Berks.), P.M. No. 2,437, 3,131, P.Z., etc. 
Chaplain of the Authors' Lodge. 

THERE are many mysteries in freemasonry, and none less puzzling 
than the origin of the name. We are so accustomed to its use that it 
does not occur to us to inquire into its meaning. Was a freemason a 
freeman and mason of a gild or company ? Was he a purely 
operative mason, or was he in some way connected with esoteric 
masonry, the operative being the germ of the ritual and mysteries 
of the craft as we know it to-day ? Were the terms mason and 
freemason identical ? or is a freemason one who worked freestone, 
in contradistinction to the mason who was employed in rough 
work ? In the London Assize of 1212 we find the term sculptores 
lapidum liberorum, and the use of " freestone mason " in its 
Norman-French or Latin form is fairly constant in the thirteenth 
century. There are doubtless omniscient masons who can answer all 
these questions, and can say with the late Master of Balliol, " What I 
do not know is not knowledge " ; but most of us can make no such 
claim to universal learning. As I have been asked by the kindly 
editor to contribute to this first volume of the " Authors' Lodge 
Transactions," which he has so generously inaugurated, I propose 
to, treat of a subject which may throw some light upon these vexed 
questions. 

Some years ago I wrote a volume on " The City Companies of 
London and their Good Works," and found amongst these 
interesting fraternities the Masons' Company, which, though now a 
small minor company, possessing no hall and few records, at one 
time was of great importance. Its historian, Mr. Edward Conder, 
junr., who occupied the honourable position of Master in 1894, in 
his book, " The Hole Crafte and Fellowship of Masons," makes the 
stupendous claim that it is the principal connecting link in that chain 
of evidence which proves that speculative masonry is lineally 
descended from the old Fraternity of Masons, which flourished in 
the days of Gothic architecture. He maintains that the old traditions 
and moral teachings of the ancient fellowship which existed in 
Britain in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were preserved by the 
Masons' Company of London until the middle of the seventeenth 
century, culminating in 1717 in the establishment of a Grand Lodge 
of England. 



All this It Is somewhat difficult to prove, as the existing documents 
of the Company are few, and the earliest book that has been 
preserved only dates back to 1620. The earlier records and 
documents have been unfortunately lost, and were probably 
destroyed in the Great Fire of London, which played tremendous 
havoc with the halls and treasures of the City Gilds of London. 
However, it is possible from other sources to trace the history of the 
Company, and to discover some connection between it and the 
fraternity to which we all have the honour and privilege to belong. 

Stow wrote in his history of London: " The Company of l^asons, 
being otherwise called freemasons, of ancient standing and good 
reconing, by means of affable and kind meetings at divers times, 
and as a loving brotherhood should use to do, did frequent this 
mutual assembly In the time of King Henry the Fourth, In the 
twelfth year of his most gracious reign (1410-zz)." In the same year 
it was incorporated by royal order, and received a grant of arms in 
the twelfth year of Edward IV. (1472-1473) from William 
Hawkeslowe, Clarenceux King of Arms, which is now preserved 
amongst the additional manuscripts in the British Museum.* The 
shield is as follows : Sable, on a chevron engrailed between three 
square castles triple-towered argent, masoned of the first, a pair of 
compasses extended silver. Crest, on a wreath a castle. This grant 
of arms was made to the " Hole Crafte and Felawship of IMasons," 
and was confirmed by Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux, in the twelfth 
year of Henry VIII. (1520-1521). Later on, the engrailed chevron 
was changed for a plain one, and the old ornamental towers in the 
arms and crest became single towers. I shall have occasion later on 
to refer to these arms. 

The Company did not begin its career in 14Io, and the Records of 
the Corporation of London show that it was in existence in 1356, 
when rules for Its guidance were framed. It was evidently then a 
Company by prescription. In 1376 it sent representatives to the 
Common Council of the City in the time of Edward III. Mention is 
made In the Letter-Book of the Corporation (II. fo. 46 b.) of both 
freemasons and masons, but the representatives of the former are 
struck out and added to those of the latter in later times. However, 
in 1530 their Gild is styled the Company of Freemasons. 

The original charter was renewed in 1677 by Charles II., the earlier 
one having probably been destroyed in the Great Fire. It contained 
a curious clause. The City Companies exercised great authority over 
the trades they regulated, and no one could follow his craft without 
being a freeman of his particular Gild. " Foreigners," i.e., those who 
were not connected with the Company, were not allowed to work in 
the City, or within a radius of seven miles, without the permission of 



the Company that presided over their trade. The Company had also 
power of search, and appointed certain members to examine work 
done and to exclude " foreigners." Hence in the renewed charter a 
saving clause was inserted, which provided that the privileges of the 
Masons' Company were not to interfere with the rebuilding of the 
Cathedral Church of St. Paul. 

The present code of By-Laws was apparently granted in 1356, and 
shows that the workmen were divided into two classes, hewers and 
light masons or setters. The special articles are two: i. That no one 
should take work in gross without tendering proper security for its 
completion ; 2, That all apprentices should work in the presence of 
their masters, till they perfectly learned their calling. In the Returns 
Of 1376, where the number of members returnable by the Gilds to 
the Common Council is set forth, the masons are said to be entitled 
to four representatives, and the freemasons to two, as if they were 
independent societies ; but as I have already stated, in .later times 
the freemasons are not mentioned, and apparently there must have 
been a fusion of the two Companies. 

.In the list of Craft-Gilds in 1421, recorded in the books of the 
Brewers' Company, the masons occupy the thirty-eighth place 
among the zit Gilds, preceding the carpenters. In 1469 they 
mustered twenty men-at-arms for the City Watch, a number equal 
to that supplied by one of the Twelve Worshipful Companies - the 
Sa Iters. 

The hall of the Company was situate in Masons' Alley, Basinghall 
Street, and the Masons' Hall Tavern still stands to mark its site. 
They have property in Bishopsgate Street, where there is a Masons' 
Court, which probably points to the site of an earlier hall. The hall 
was the scene of an important gathering to which I shall presently 
refer, showing the connection between the Company and the 
fraternity to which we belong. 

The influence of the Company was by its constitution confined to 
London and its environs, but it seems to have been recognised in 
some way by the numerous lodges and chapters scattered over the 
whole country. There are about seventy manuscript copies of the 
constitutions of masonry in existence, dating from the fourteenth 
and fifteenth centuries to the present time, and on several of these 
the arms of the Company is emblazoned, sometimes also in 
association with arms of the City of London. An inventory of the 
possessions of the Gild, taken in 1665, contained a manuscript copy 
of old charges or gothic contributions, a book of the contributions of 
Accepted Masons, and of the Masons' Company, given in the 



mayoralty of John Brown, D.D., 1481 ; but this document has 
disappeared. 

It is well known that apart from the London Company, or associated 
with it, there was a very old institution of a brotherhood amongst 
members of the craft extending both in England and abroad, for the 
government of its members, who were operative masons and their 
kindred. They had lodges and chapters, and enjoined secrecy in all 
matters concerning what was done in these gatherings. Learned 
freemasons have written much about the history of these lodges of 
operative masons, and an excellent lecture was recently given 
before the Authors Lodge on this subject, and I need not 
recapitulate what has been said or written. But what is the 
connection between our London Company and these country lodges 
and our own brotherhood ? Were all these early associations 
concerned only with operative masonry, or is there any evidence 
that they associated themselves with speculative masonry ? The 
world owes a great debt to the keepers of diaries, and we owe much 
to .the distinguished antiquary, Elias Ashmole, for that which he 
kept. He tells us that on October 16th, 1646, at 4.30, he " was 
made a freemason at Warrington, in Lancashire, with Coll. Henry 
Mainwaring, of Karincham, in Cheshire." That is very important and 
interesting. But that is not all. Other names are mentioned of 
persons present on that occasion, and Mr. W. H. Rylands, with 
patient research,, has discovered that not a single member of the 
lodge was an operative mason. They were gentlemen of good 
family, or yeomen ; and had nothing to do with the ordinary craft. 
So without doubt there existed in this Lancashire town in 1646 a 
lodge that concerned itself with speculative masonry, perhaps 
somewhat similar to that which we practise to-day. And if that was 
so in the small town of Warrington, it must have been true of many 
others. 

.Some years later, in 1682, Ashmole wrote in his diary under the 
date March 10th :- - 

" About 5 p.m. I received a summons to appear at a lodge to be held the 
next day at Masons' Hall, London." 

He duly attended, and was admitted into the fellowship of freemasons. 
There were present Sir William Wilson, a builder and distinguished 
architect, Captain Rich, Mr. W. Borthwick, &c., and several members of 
the Masons' Company. Ashmole adds: " We all dyned at the Halfe Moone 
Taverne in Cheapeside, at a noble dinner prepaired at the charge of the 
new-accepted masons." Now we may gather from this that there were two 
divisions of members, one speculative and the other operative, and that 
the hall of the Company was their place of meeting. 



In the earliest book of the Company of 1620, to which I have 
referred, there is a record of gratuities received from new members 
being accepted, while others were only admitted by patrimony, 
apprenticeship or redemption, according to the ordinary rules of all 
the City Companies. May we assume that the former were initiated 
into a lodge of speculative masonry held in the Company's hall ? 
Ashmole's account of the " noble dinner " prepared by the " new- 
accepted masons " seems to support this theory. Again, there was 
an inventory in the hall which mentions " an old list in the hall, 
enclosed in a faire frame with lock and key, of accepted masons." 
Moreover, Bro. Robert Freke Gould, in his History o f Freemasonry, 
referring to the earliest book of the Company (that of 1620, already 
mentioned), tells of an important discovery which he made. A 
certain Robert Padgett is recorded as " Clearke to the Worshippfull 
Society of the Freemasons of the City of London " in 1686. Now the 
names of the clerks of the Company are on record, and Padgett was 
never clerk of the Masons' Company, of which at that date a Mr. 
Stampe was clerk. Hence it is undoubtedly true that the Society of 
the Freemasons and the Company were distinct bodies, although 
they both met at Masons' Hall. 

The close connection of the Company with the lodge continued until 
1682, when the free and accepted, or speculative, masons for some 
reason deserted the hall, and most probably our oldest lodge, " The 
Lodge of Antiquity," was a continuance of that which had previously 
been held in Masons' Hall. As a proof of this we may notice that in a 
MS. roll, dated 1586, the arms of the Lodge of Antiquity very closely 
resemble those of the Masons' Company. Both have the three 
castles, the chevron and extended compasses, and this helps to 
show the close connection between the two.** 
We may conclude that until the end of the seventeenth century this 
close association continued, when for some reason the connection 
ended, and speculative masonry had no place in the records or 
transactions of the Masons' Company. But all members of our 
fraternity will retain a warm place in their hearts for the Company 
which proved herself a nursing mother of speculative masonry in 
the days of its infancy, and will join in the time honoured toast of 
the Gild - " Prosperity to the Masons' Company root and branch, 
and may it flourish for ever." In this short paper it is impossible to 
dwell upon all the inviting themes which the subject suggests, or to 
record the names of the distinguished brethren who laid the 
foundations of masonry as we know it, of " the kings that have been 
of this sodalitie " ; and lest I wander into too wide a field, I will 
recall the homely injunction frequently inscribed upon the sign of 
the compasses : 

Keep within compass. 
And then you'll be sure 



To avoid many troubles 
That others endure." 



* This grant was long lost by the Company and was found in private hands in 
1871, when it was purchased by the Company and presented to the British 
Museum: cf. paper by Mr. H. H. BURNELL, F.S.A., Master in 1872, read before the 
Society of Antiquaries. 

** The Lodge of Antiquity met at "The Goose and Gridiron" (1717-1729), whither 
it must have migrated from Masons' Hall, and was the " first old Lodge," though it 
did not assume its present name until 1770. In 1813, at the Act of Union, the 
premier place was by lot assigned to No. i of the " Atholl " Lodges, and the Lodge 
of Antiquity obtained its present numerical distinction No. 2.